5. Shrine of the Magi
The remains of the three wise men arrived in Cologne in 1164 after being gathered in Jerusalem by Saint Helena and after being held for a number of years in Constantinople and Milan. The shrine itself is an elaborately decorated gold-plated triple sarcophagus held inside the Cologne Cathedral. It is the largest reliquary in the western world. The relics have become such an important aspect of Cologne’s sense of identity that there are three crowns on the city’s coat of arms.
4. Saint Teresa of Avila’s Hand
Saint Teresa had a surprising role in both the Spanish Civil war and the ensuing Francoist dictatorship. Catholicism was a major aspect of Franco’s regime and Saint Teresa was used as a propaganda tool in endorsing his oppressive ideology; a warped representation of traditional Spain. In February 1937, the future tyrant Francisco Franco acquired the hand of Saint Teresa after it had been stolen from a convent in Ronda. He took the mummified hand wherever he went and even slept with it underneath his pillow. He saw his obsession through to the end as he died clutching it in 1975.
3. Mary Magdalene’s Arm
In 1191, Saint Hugh visited the abbey of Fécamp. Shown the abbey’s relic of Mary Magdalene’s arm, he tried to take a piece. Finding it difficult to remove a chunk manually and to the horror of the monks, he bit off two fingers. He justified his actions thus, “If a little while ago I handled the sacred body of the Lord with my fingers in spite of my unworthiness, and partook of it with my lips and my teeth, why should I not treat the bones of the saints in the same way – and without profanity acquire them whenever I can.”
2. Saint Catherine of Siena’s Head
Saint Catherine of Siena once received a vision that Jesus gave her a wedding finger made of his own holy foreskin. She died from a stroke aged 33 in Rome. However, the people of Siena wanted her body back for veneration. Realizing that they couldn’t take the entire body back, they cut off her head and placed it inside a sack. When the guards stopped the thieves they only found hundreds of rose petals within the bag and had no choice but to let the thieves go. The head is still on display in Siena, along with Saint Catherine’s dismembered thumb.
1. The Holy Foreskin
Also known as the Holy Prepuce, the earliest historical appearance of Jesus’ foreskin came when Charlemagne presented it to Pope Leo II in 800. Interestingly, most of the visions that relate to the Holy Prepuce were from female Saints; St Bridget claimed that she had orgasms when bits of foreskin were dropped on her tongue by an angel. By the 20th century the Holy Prepuce became little more than an embarrassment to the Church and the last known claimant was stolen in 1983 in Calcutta.